Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.9.22

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Who's up, down, in and out — your morning tipsheet on Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

Sen. Danny Burgess is joining Tampa Bay’s largest law firm.

Shumaker announced Wednesday that it was adding the lawmaker and former head of the Florida Department of Veteran’s Affairs to its legal team “to help expand Shumaker’s reach in Tampa Bay and beyond.”

In addition to Burgess, the firm is bringing on Zephyrhills City Attorney Matthew Maggard.

“Danny and Matthew are respected leaders with strong ties in Pasco County. Adding them to the firm will allow Shumaker to serve new clients and continue its exciting growth,” said Ron Christaldi, Shumaker’s Tampa Managing Partner and the President and CEO of Shumaker Advisors Florida.

Danny Burgess brings his extensive Pasco County experience to Tampa Bay’s largest legal firm.

Burgess earned his law degree from Barry University and his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of South Florida. He is also a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Shumaker said his law and community experience will be an invaluable resource for Shumaker clients.

“Shumaker handles some of the most cutting-edge cases, with a prestigious team of attorneys who stand out as difference makers in Tampa Bay,” Burgess said. “I am thrilled to join this elite group of innovative leaders and look forward to helping clients solve complex problems.”

Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, will work out of Shumaker’s Dade City Office, which provides a full range of services to businesses, individuals, and estates throughout the United States and internationally, emphasizing representation of publicly held companies and other growth enterprises.


The First Amendment Foundation has selected Florida Supreme Court communications director Craig Waters for its 2022 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award.

FAF said Waters’ pick was in recognition of his “groundbreaking use of the internet and video technology to open the workings of the Florida Supreme Court — and the state court system — to the public.”

Speak freely: Craig Waters is recognized for bringing innovations to the Florida Supreme Court.

The award comes as Waters prepares to retire after 35 years working for the court. During his tenure, he established the Supreme Court’s initial website, organized the statewide broadcast and worldwide livestreams of Supreme Court oral arguments — most notably those related to the 2000 presidential election recount — and helped bring the court into the social media age.

“No one in this state has done more to open up justice in Florida to the public than Craig Waters,” said Pamela Marsh, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation. “He has dedicated his entire career to the public’s free access to the judicial system and its records. Craig has been an advocate for everything we stand for at the First Amendment Foundation.”

First Amendment Foundation Board of Trustees chair Amy Hollyfield added, “It is an honor to recognize Craig Waters for his relentless work for transparency in Florida’s court system.”

Waters will receive the award during the Florida Supreme Court’s retirement reception at 2:30 p.m. The reception will be held at the Florida Supreme Court’s library and is open to the public.

The Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award was created in 1995 to recognize the significant contribution to open government by Pete Weitzel, the former senior editor of the Miami Herald and the founder and Director Emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation.

Past recipients include former Gov. Charlie Crist, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte, former House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace and former Senate Presidents Jim Scott, Toni Jennings and Joe Negron.


@ashishjka: Quick update on the state of the pandemic in the U.S. Nationally, Infections are down 60%. Hospitalizations down about 30%. Deaths have largely plateaued at a very high 2500+ per day. Beneath the headlines, we see dropping infections in every part of the country.

@ChristinaPushaw: Gov. (Ron) DeSantis 2020: Opens Schools Dems 2022: Schools are open because of us. Say thank you. Gov DeSantis 2021: Protects parents’ right to decide whether or not their own kids wear masks in schools. Dems 2022: School masks are optional because of us. Say thank you.

@SenRickScott: No one has done more to grow and expand the Republican Party than @GOPChairwoman. The @GOP is making historic investments in the @NRSC and because of their support, we have been able to grow our grassroots fundraising to unprecedented levels.

Tweet, tweet:

@JosephBHarding: Things that matter to Americans and @POTUS is silent on: — Rising gas prices — empty shelves — affordable housing — not starting another war What is our President worried about? He is worried about my bill that empowers parents. He is worried about @GovRonDeSantis. Red wave.

@Name_u_Know: I hope it’s not lost on folks that while supporters of HB1239 are saying that the bill won’t reduce direct care, the amended bill literally will reduce the minimum standard of direct care by CNAs from 2.5 to 2.0. That’s clear, harmful math.

@ByJasonDelgado: CFO @JimmyPatronis on PIP insurance & Floridians: “My phone doesn’t ring off the hook with people complaining about PIP …” “Now I’ll tell you what … If their insurance rates go up, they will burn down the Capitol.”

@RenzoDowney: Time for bills to start dying? Senate Community Affairs doesn’t have time to extend its meeting this afternoon. Ethics & Elex is using the room next to continue considering @FLSurgeonGen. Before public input, Sen. (Travis) Hutson warns, “Bills will die if we don’t get this going.”

Tweet, tweet:

@DKThomp: One of the most popular modes of commentary is what you could call DGAF Populist. DGAF Populists — Rogan, Chappelle, Maher — are anti-PC, anti-GOP, anti-left, anti-neurotic, anti-“woke,” pro-“do your thing,” economically left, culturally libertarian, and linguistically rude


Super Bowl LVI — 4; Will Smith‘s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 4; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 7; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 7; Spring Training report dates begin — 8; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 8; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 11; Daytona 500 — 11; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 13; Suits For Session — 14; CPAC begins — 15; St. Pete Grand Prix — 16; Joe Biden to give the State of the Union address — 20; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 23; Miami Film Festival begins — 23; the 2022 Players begins — 27; Sarasota County votes to renew the special 1-mill property tax for the school district — 27; House GOP retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach — 42; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 42; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 44; The Oscars — 43; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 48; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 53; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 72; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 78; federal student loan payments will resume — 81; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 86; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 107; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 113; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 150; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 163; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 181; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 205; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 240; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 275; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 278; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 310; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 373; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 408; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 534; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 618; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 898.


Senate, House budget bills would create new DCA, change gaming commission, account for inflation” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — The House and Senate Appropriations committees are poised to vote on their budget plans Wednesday, setting the stage for a floor vote later in Session. Along with the main budget bill, they’ll also approve a slew of budget conforming bills required to pass in tandem with the budget. Included in those bills are measures to create a $2 billion fund to help state agencies cope with rising costs of goods due to inflation, create a 6th District Court of Appeal, and change the qualifications for serving on the new Gaming Control Commission. The inflation trust fund is a bill proposed by the House (APC 22-06), setting aside $2 billion in general revenue.

Spending spree: The House and Senate budgets offer a slew of major projects.


Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo declines to say if he got the COVID-19 shot, moves toward final confirmation vote” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Ladapo is one vote away from being confirmed by the Senate, despite strong opposition from Democrats who say he has failed to promote COVID-19 vaccines, masks and other measures to slow the spread of the virus. The Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4 on party lines in favor of Ladapo’s confirmation. The full Senate will vote next on his confirmation. Grilled by Democrats over his stance on COVID-19 shots, Ladapo wouldn’t say whether he had gotten the vaccine and a booster dose, saying it is his private medical information. “Our approach at the Department of Health has been to provide education and access,” Ladapo said. “What we have seen during this pandemic has been not so much that but rather coercion and sometimes unfortunately propaganda.”

‘This is fear-mongering’: Parents, teachers slam Senate bill limiting primary school talk about LGBTQ community” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A slew of teachers, parents and students spoke Tuesday morning against legislation that would more closely regulate LGBTQ instruction in the classroom and conversations with younger students. Despite the wave of public testimony opposing the bill, the measure (SB 1834) was passed in a 6-3 vote along party lines by the Senate Education Committee. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, would ban school districts from “encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate.” It would also allow parents to sue a school district if such a violation occurred.

Don’t say gay: Dennis Baxley’s bill tries to curb ‘social engineering’ in the classroom.

Senate begins advancing proposal to block many citizen ballot initiatives” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A measure to limit what the public can propose to amend the Florida Constitution is now moving in the Senate after emerging from the House committee process. Republican lawmakers are offering a change to the constitution that would limit citizen initiatives to procedural matters, the structure of government or the constitution. The House is ready to consider its version of the measure (HJR 1127), and the Senate version (SJR 1412) is catching up after passing from its first panel on Tuesday. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4, along party lines, to advance the resolution from Sen. Jason Brodeur.

Senate bill banning protests outside people’s homes advances” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — SB 1664, filed by Sen. Keith Perry, amends the unlawful assembly statute to ban a person from “picketing or protesting before or about another person’s home in order to harass or disturb the person in his or her home.” “This bill recognizes the right to privacy, safety, and peace that we all deserve in our home,” Perry said. Violations of the law would constitute a second-degree misdemeanor, but a warning would be issued first, Perry said. As the bill is currently contemplated, the ban would also include public right of way spaces, Perry said, including sidewalks and streets in front of condo complexes.

—“House committee clears bill outlawing residential protests” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

Bill to require Florida colleges, universities to change accreditors clears Senate Education Committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A committee proposal that would prevent state colleges and universities from being accredited by the same agency for consecutive accreditation cycles advanced Tuesday morning. The committee approved the bill (SPB 7044) in a 6-3 vote along party lines. The measure would also require additional information about textbooks and instructional materials from state universities and colleges, mandating such information be posted at least 45 days before the start of class and kept public for five years. The bill’s goal is to increase transparency and make materials more accessible for students, said Sen. Manny Diaz, who presented the bill.

Bill to tighten union regulations heads to final House committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation asking public employee union members to reaffirm annually that they want to remain members has advanced to its final House panel. Critics argue the bill (HB 1197), carried by Rep. Scott Plakon and Rep. Cord Byrd, is a “union-busting” measure pushed Session after Session for the last decade. On Tuesday, the House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee voted 9-6, along party lines, to give the measure its second preliminary OK. Public employees would have to sign a member authorization form every year to maintain union membership. Members also couldn’t opt to have union dues automatically deducted from their salaries.

Police recruitment package ready for House floor” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida’s proposal to enshrine itself as the most “law enforcement friendly” state in the nation is ready for the House’s full consideration. A priority of DeSantis, the bill would provide recruits a bundle of perks if signed into law. Among them, a one-time $5,000 bonus for newcomers and a $1,000 reimbursement program for out-of-state officers who relocate to Florida. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill (HB 3) unanimously without debate. Rep. Tom Leek is the bill sponsor.

ICYMIErin Grall accuses Office of Insurance Regulation of ‘agency malpractice’ before PIP vote” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Over the objections of Florida insurance companies, the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee voted 15-3 to pass a bill that would eliminate Florida’s long-standing no-fault insurance program and the requirement to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection. Before the vote, HB 1525 bill sponsor Rep. Grall called out the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation for its decision to commission a report on the fiscal impact of a near-identical bill from the 2021 bill that eliminated PIP. The OIR released the Pinnacle report before Gov. DeSantis vetoed the bill.

Malpractice: Erin Grall blasts the OIR for a report that killed the effort to scrap PIP.

A bill in Tallahassee could save Amazon more than $1 million a year” via Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents — flies nearly two dozen flights a day in and out of a small airport in Lakeland, about halfway between Orlando and Tampa. The flights are part of a $100 million air-cargo hub that Amazon has built at the publicly-owned airport, which has become a key cog in a global package-delivery network that has helped make Amazon one of the world’s largest retailers. Amazon paid $941,252.76 in taxes last year on that property — about the cost of a dozen public-school teachers. But Amazon’s annual tax bill could disappear thanks to bills (HB 1387/SB 1840) moving through the Florida Legislature. The legislation, which gets its first hearing tomorrow in the House Ways & Means Committee, seeks to help many businesses avoid paying property taxes on land they lease at airports, seaports and spaceports.

— TALLY 2 —

Controversial Medicaid managed care bill inches closer to House consideration” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A contentious plan to overhaul the state’s mammoth health care safety net took its second step forward Monday. The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee approved HB 7047 by a 10-5 vote along party lines. If the bill is ultimately approved, it will require the state to enact a long line of changes ahead of Florida’s plans in 2025 to rebid major contracts with managed care companies that now work with the bulk of those enrolled in the program. There are more than 5 million people in Medicaid, but not all are required to be enrolled in managed care. But 4 million are. Democrats warned about some of the proposed changes included in the legislation that could affect dental services provided to Medicaid and affect some of the large public hospitals that treat Medicaid patients.

House committee advances bill addressing nursing home staff shortage” via Florida Politics — The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill aimed at alleviating the staffing shortage at nursing homes after hearing from numerous groups who warned nursing homes closures were on the horizon if lawmakers don’t act. Sponsored by Rep. Lauren Melo, HB 1239 would allow nursing homes to meet current and future needs by allowing staff without nursing degrees to fulfill a portion of direct care hour requirements. Proponents of the bill describe it as a necessary modernization of current regulations and assert that it would provide nursing home residents with more personalized care, including physical rehabilitation, mental health services, spiritual services, counseling and other treatments.

Help wanted: Lauren Melo wants to help the nursing home staffing shortage by loosening some outdated regs.

Bill allowing tourist taxes to fund law enforcement in seven counties clears House panel” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Law enforcement could be considered a tourist development necessity, supplemented with tourist tax dollars in seven northern Gulf Coast counties under a bill approved by a House panel Tuesday. The House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee voted 15-2 to advance a committee substitute bill for Rep. Jason Shoaf’s tourist development tax measure (HB 573). The approval came after a lengthy revisiting of long-standing battles over tourist tax uses in Florida. Shoaf and other proponents argued high standards of law enforcement and emergency medical services should be considered essential to promoting tourism, while images of increased crime or beach chaos are turnoffs for potential tourists.

Legislation giving first responders with PTSD more time for workers’ comp claims advances” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to give first responders more time to begin claims for work-related post-traumatic stress is approaching its final committee hearings. The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Giallombardo, builds off a 2018 law that modified the state’s workers’ compensation laws to allow first responders who have job-induced PTSD to tap into indemnity benefits, which compensate injured workers for a portion of their lost wages while out of work with an injury. Under current law, first responders must file notices within 90 days of the qualifying event or manifestation of the disorder. Likewise, first responders must file their claim within 52 weeks of the traumatic event in question.

House moves ahead with bill allowing paid work to meet Bright Futures service requirement” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — College-bound students seeking a Bright Futures scholarship could soon meet volunteer hour requirements through a regular job. The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (HB 461) to allow work, whether paid or not, to count. Rep. Melo filed the bill to ensure the scholarship would be available to those students facing financial challenges. She said when the Legislature in 1997 tagged a volunteer work requirement to the Bright Futures Program, it created an unintended consequence of discouraging many working students from seeking the scholarship.

Bill protecting tax benefits of farmers engaged in agritourism now ready for House floor” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Legislation looking to protect farmers’ ability to engage in agritourism moves to the House floor after earning unanimous approval in its third and final committee stop. Rep. Josie Tomkow is sponsoring the bill (HB 717). The legislation codifies that farmland can still be taxed at a lower rate even when using parts of the property for agritourism. The House State Affairs Committee OK’d the measure by a 23-0 vote on Tuesday. “House Bill 717 is a bill that clarifies the intent of Florida’s agritourism property tax structure,” Tomkow explained Tuesday.

House committee advances bill tackling organized retail theft” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Lawmakers took another step Tuesday toward cracking down on organized crime in Florida. Under a proposal (HB 1511) by Rep. Chuck Clemons, the state would levy stiffer penalties against thieves who steal from multiple stores within a short period. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee OK’d the bill with a 15-3 vote. It will appear next before the House Judiciary Committee, marking the bill’s final committee stop. The proposal comes as lawmakers nationwide wrestle with a wave of organized shoplifting rings. The crime, coined “boosting,” involves multiple thieves coordinating to steal multiple items across different retailers.

Net metering bill gets compromise amendment, heads to final Senate panel” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation backed by Florida Power & Light (FPL) that would raise energy rates on rooftop solar panel customers passed its penultimate Senate committee on Tuesday. Under current law, solar panel owners who have excess energy generated by the panels can sell it back to utilities at the retail rate the utilities charge other customers. That practice is known as net metering. The bill (SB 1024), carried by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, would require charging a lower wholesale price to the utilities. Before a 6-3 party-line vote in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Bradley told the committee Florida knows where it’s headed because other states are already grappling with problems with the existing net metering system.

Cyberterror legislation moves closer to floor vote” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Legislation that would beef up Florida’s criminal penalties for stealing an individual’s sexually explicit pictures moved one step closer to passage in both chambers of the Legislature Tuesday. The Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee OK’d a measure (SB 1798) from Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book Tuesday morning. The House companion bill (HB 1453) also earned approval Tuesday from the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Rep. Joe Harding is sponsoring that measure. The Tuesday hearings mark the second of three committee stops for the Senate and House bills. Book said she was victimized last year when intimate images were stolen from her and other sexually explicit “deepfake” images of Book were created.

Deepfakes: Lauren Book’s cyberterrorism bill, based on personal experience, advances through the Senate.

Bill creating standard procedures before paying hackers gets House committee nod” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A bill advanced Tuesday to require local governments to go through a checklist, including reports to law enforcement, before paying hackers for hijacked data. The Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security approved Hutson’s proposal (SB 1670). The bill is not so strict as other legislation (PCB Sat 22-02) forbidding paying hackers’ demands altogether. Instead, it outlines training certain government employees should have and requires local governments to have a cybersecurity plan.

A bill with some bite: Dangerous dogs rule moves forward in second House committee stop” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Dogs will be judged by behavior and not breed, according to a bill that won unanimous subcommittee approval Tuesday at its second hearing stop. Rep. James Buchanan’s bill (HB 721) got the nod from the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee Tuesday. It allows housing authorities to put restrictions on owners of dogs “that have bitten or attacked persons or domestic animals … provided that no such regulation is specific to breed.” The bill has already won approval from the House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. The bill strips out statutory language that has grandfathered in Miami’s ban on pit bulls.

Jacksonville spaceport authority gets committee nod” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A new regional government authority would be given state backing to promote space business around the spaceport being developed in Jacksonville, under a bill approved by a House committee Tuesday. On Tuesday, Rep. Wyman Duggan’s Northeast Florida Regional Spaceport Authority bill (HB 1303) shot through the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee. The only concern raised was about whether a new state-chartered authority specific to space flight around Jacksonville might somehow conflict or compete with Florida’s big statewide space agency, Space Florida. Duggan assured the committee it wouldn’t, winning a 17-0 vote for his bill.


‘A form of welfare’: Bill eliminating permanent alimony advances to House floor after heated debate” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Legislation to end lifelong alimony has returned to the Legislature, and is now on to the floor after clearing its final House committee Tuesday evening. This year’s House version (HB 1395), carried by Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, was approved in a 15-6 vote in the House Judiciary Committee, but only after some heated debate. The legislation would prohibit the award of permanent alimony in future divorces and would also repeal court-ordered permanent alimony. That leaves bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational alimony as options. Former couples could still agree to permanent alimony in a marital settlement.

Controversial transfer title bill amended, passes first committee hearing” via Shannon Behnken of WFLA — A proposed state bill that would give car dealers two months to fork over the title to the car you just bought, instead of the current 30 days under state law, inched forward Tuesday. Some consumer advocates argue the proposed 60 days could further hurt consumers, some who have already been waiting six months or longer for a car title. Even so, the recently amended House Bill 1517 is a shell of its first version, which would have taken away any deadline for dealers and would have also taken away the penalties the state could impose on dealers who didn’t transfer titles on time. The committee unanimously approved the amendment.

Senate panel advances a bill … and a legacy” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Dan Markel did not get to see one small piece of his legacy take root today, as the Florida Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee voted unanimously in support of SB 1408, a multiyear effort inspired in part by Markel’s 2014 murder-for-hire. But his two children and parents very well might. SB 1408 would allow grandparents to access courts to petition for visitation with grandchildren in cases where one parent died, and the living parent was found responsible for their death by a civil or criminal court. Florida families report a variety of reasons for experiencing separation from grandchildren, but the stories often share a common thread: a surviving parent cuts ties following alleged wrongdoing, and children who once enjoyed the love and support of grandparents are left suddenly without.

Legacy: Dan Markel will never see the effects of the visitation bill, but his children and parents will.

Fentrice Driskell gets bipartisan praise as abandoned cemeteries bill clears House committee” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — While there was no debate, the was plenty of discussion Tuesday as Rep. Driskell‘s Abandoned African American Cemeteries bill unanimously passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee. The bill (HB 1215) would create a Historic Cemeteries Program within the Division of Historical Resources to coordinate research, repair, restoration, and maintenance efforts at abandoned African American cemeteries. It also creates a Historic Cemeteries Advisory Council and makes it easier for the state to preserve rediscovered cemeteries.

Jackie Toledo’s human trafficking crackdown bill heads to House floor” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A Senate bill aimed at cracking down on prostitution and human trafficking in Florida cleared its final committee Tuesday afternoon, sending it to the House floor. The legislation (HB 1439), sponsored by Rep. Toledo, garnered unanimous support in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill bans hourly rates at hotels, motels, and vacation rentals and raises the first-time penalty for those paying for sex from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Toledo said the changes were meant to decrease the market for human trafficking by lessening the number of people looking to purchase that type of sex work.

Senate panel moves to kill ‘hourly rate’ hotels, crackdown on ‘first-time johns’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A bill outlawing the long-standing practice of certain hotels offering “hourly rates” has cleared the Regulated Industries Committee, its first committee of reference in the Senate. And an amendment that would impose felony penalties on those soliciting prostitution was added to the bill. SB 1852, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, adds one line to existing law. “An operator of a public lodging establishment or a vacation rental may not offer an hourly rate for an accommodation.” However, this one line could have a major impact. Presenting the bill on behalf of Bradley, Sen. Lauren Book notes that hourly rental lodging facilitates human trafficking.

Senate panel OK’s crackdown on ‘aggressive careless driving’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A Senate bill that adds texting-while-driving to a class of violations constituting “aggressive careless driving” in the case of injury or property damage cleared its first committee Thursday, with an amendment added to provide penalties for the same. SB 476 would add texting while driving and operating a vehicle in ways not allowed by driver’s licenses as potential factors determining an aggressive driving charge. Aggressive careless driving charges would be proscribed in this law after an amendment approved in committee.

‘Local voices’ convene, descend on Capitol to advocate for local choices — Nearly 300 municipal officials traveled to Tallahassee for the Florida League of Cities’ annual Legislative Action Days this week. Their mission was to discuss priority issues and advocate for local self-government. Municipal officials met with legislators and testified in committees to share real-world examples of local impacts from the proposed legislation. “For 100 years, the League has advocated for local self-government,” said FLC President Phillip Walker. “I can think of no better way to honor our centennial anniversary than to be here, together, bringing our united voices to the state Capitol to advocate for our communities.”

Florida NOW slams Chuck Brannan for letting ‘rape loophole’ bill languish — Victims’ rights group Florida NOW called out Rep. Brannan, who chairs the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, for not scheduling a bill that would close Florida’s “rape loophole” despite the Senate fast-tracking similar legislation. Under current Florida law, the sexual assault of a person who is incapacitated because of alcohol or drug use is charged as a sexual battery if the perpetrator provided the incapacitating substance, but it is treated differently if the victim became intoxicated by choice. HB 525 would delete that caveat. “At this point, we can’t help but wonder what the Representative has against rape victims,” said Florida NOW Vice President Sandra Weeks. “By holding out on HB 525 and other rape law reform bills, he’s holding victim’s rights hostage.”

Loose ends: Victim rights group blasts Chuck Brannan for foot-dragging a ‘rape loophole’ bill.

Orlando students behind bill to make online voter registration part of Florida high schools” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Two years ago, a couple of teenage friends in Orlando were debating how they might make a difference in the world. They zeroed in on voting. Too many young people were sitting on the sidelines of democracy. So John Bedell and Fred Asare-Konadu started programs at their high schools to help kids register to vote. They then developed a plan to promote online voter registration at every high school in Florida and then found legislators willing to turn their idea into reality. So far, the Republican majority that controls the Florida Legislature seems to have no interest in making it easier for young people to register to vote. Not a single GOP lawmaker has signed onto their bill.

Assignment editors — Equal Ground Action Fund hosts “Woke” Place Policy: A discussion about Florida’s censorship of Black history. Community leaders from different backgrounds will speak on a panel, condemning Republicans for aggressively pushing HB 7, the “Stop Woke” bill, 6:30 p.m. RSVP to [email protected] for livestream link.

— SKED —

Assignment editors — Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Sen. Ed Hooper and Florida Realtors President Christina Pappas will hold a news conference on a bill (SB 788) to create a program to help first responders, law enforcement, educators, and health care workers purchase homes, 9 a.m., 4th Floor.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee meets to consider the $108.6 billion budget for the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 fiscal year, 9 a.m., 412 of the Knott Building.

— The House Appropriations Committee meets to consider the proposed $105.3 billion budget for the Fiscal Year 2022-2023, 9 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— The House convenes for a floor Session to consider HB 7021, from Health and Human Services Chair Colleen Burton, to extend COVID-19 legal protections for hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers, 2:30 p.m., House Chamber.


— House Ways and Means Committee, 9 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.


Winter minestrone with ditalini; vegan Cobb salad with dressings; pasta salad; tropical fruit salad; BLT wraps; roasted eggplant lasagna; grilled sirloin of beef with Madagascar sauce and onion straws; buttermilk mashed potatoes; Brussels sprouts with applewood bacon and assorted cookies for dessert.


Ron DeSantis insists narrative of Donald Trump rivalry is ‘total bunk’: He’s ‘a friend of mine’” via Kelly Laco of Fox News — According to DeSantis, Republicans, including himself, have the support of Trump, and any notion to the contrary can be attributed to media spin. DeSantis stated that he’s on good terms with Trump. “Donald Trump’s a friend of mine. He is proud when people do well, and it’s not just me, but obviously, he’s a Florida resident, and he appreciates the job that we’ve done. He’s told me that many times, not only with helping with the election but just how we govern the state.” DeSantis wouldn’t say whether he would potentially take on Trump in 2024 and said anonymous sources close to Trump who said he has a “dull personality” could be attributed to Democrats and the media.

Besties: Ron DeSantis insists there is no bad blood with Donald Trump.

Progressive stops renewing some home policies in Florida as lawmakers target roof claims” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Progressive Insurance is shedding roughly 56,000 policies covering Florida homes with roofs older than 15 years, putting the squeeze on homeowners who already find it difficult and expensive to insure their houses. It’s the latest sign of trouble in Florida’s turbulent property insurance market. “This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Sen. Jeff Brandes warned fellow Senators last week. Last week, Farm Bureau Insurance said it would no longer write homeowners’ policies in the state. A handful of property insurers have already gone out of business. The ones that haven’t are requesting double-digit rate increases.

Only 50% of Florida kindergartners ready for class” via Sam Sachs of WFLA — Only half of Florida’s kindergartners were ready for school when it comes to reading and math. That’s not a judgment; that’s based on scoring by the Florida Department of Education. Using the Star Early Literacy assessment, Florida kindergartners were required to complete a 15- to 20-minute assessment to see how ready for public school they were. The assessment was developed by Renaissance, the company that started the Accelerated Reader program in 1986. 40% of the U.S. uses its programs to test student preparedness.

Florida to set goals for 100% renewable energy by 2050. But will it actually happen?” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Florida is taking the first step toward requiring more renewable energy statewide after Nikki Fried announced her office planned to start the process of setting goals for the state to get 100% of its power from renewable energy by 2050. But goals are likely all they’ll remain, at least for the foreseeable future. Under state law, the ability to actually force utilities to meet them falls to the Public Service Commission, an appointed statewide board in charge of regulating Florida’s utilities that has historically been less than aggressive about upping standards for renewable energy or energy efficiency.

Lake Okeechobee water level still high, but releases within healthy threshold” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — The Caloosahatchee River is in pretty good shape going into the heart of the dry season, although more Lake Okeechobee discharges may be needed in the spring to get water levels down to a healthy level. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases around 2,000 cubic feet per day as measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva. That’s well below the 2,800 cubic feet per second harmful threshold. That’s the point at which too much water is entering the Caloosahatchee River’s estuary. Lake Okeechobee levels are nearly 15 feet above sea level, and the Army Corps will try to get those levels down to at least 12.5 feet by the start of the rainy season in mid-May.


Florida Surgeon General defends support of fringe group that touted false COVID-19 ‘cure’” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Ladapo defended his involvement Tuesday with a group of doctors that touted a false and unproven COVID-19 “cure” favored by Trump. Ladapo faced scrutiny from Democrats during his second confirmation hearing over his support of America’s Frontline Doctors, which held a controversial news conference in July 2020 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. Questioning by the Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee will resume Tuesday night. If it approves him, the full Senate will take up Ladapo’s nomination next. Ladapo stood with other doctors in white coats at the event, which promoted zinc and the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure and blasted lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions.

Playing defense: Joseph Ladapo is standing tall for a group that touts a COVID-19 ‘cure.’

COVID-19 update: Florida reports 19,306 new cases; positivity rates lowest in nearly two months” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 19,306 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as parts of South Florida have seen positivity rates drop below 15% for the first time since mid-December. The number of patients in the hospital with COVID-19 rose slightly since Monday but is still down nearly 18% over the previous Monday. There were 1,128 COVID-19-infected patients in intensive care units on Monday, the smallest number since Jan. 6. The hospital data combines patients admitted for COVID-19 with those infected while hospitalized. The number of cases in the omicron surge has fallen by more than 73% from its peak on Jan. 11.

Omicron causes record-high cases in Florida nursing homes, but deaths remain low” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Florida’s omicron winter hit nursing homes hard, with the number of weekly infections reported among residents and staff reaching record highs in mid-January. But despite reporting more cases for a single week in mid-January than at any other point in the pandemic, Florida nursing homes are not seeing a corresponding spike in deaths, the cumulative effect, experts say, of immunity from vaccines and prior illness with COVID-19. “The fact that there were not more deaths is probably due to vaccination and the fact that many people had it before, and the nursing homes knowing what to do, having procedures they didn’t have when this started concerning PPE and who to isolate and when and how,” said Lindsay Peterson, a researcher with the University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies.

Military can’t discipline officers for refusing vaccine, Florida judge rules” via Military Times — In a stinging rebuke of the military’s handling of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine enforcement policy, a federal-district court judge in Florida has issued a temporary order preventing disciplinary action against two officers who refused the vaccine on religious grounds. The order, which is in place until Friday, is the latest ruling temporarily barring the military from punishing troops over their refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In a separate case, a Texas judge in January ordered a temporary injunction against the punishment of a group of Navy SEALs.

— 2022 —

What to make of polls that show Americans are trending toward the GOP” via Geoffrey Skelley and Mary Radcliffe of FiveThirtyEight — Are there really more Americans identifying as Republicans than Democrats now? For decades, more Americans have tended to identify as Democrats than Republicans, even if the gap has sometimes been small. But in January, Gallup found that Republicans had taken the lead in party ID during the last three months of 2021: On average, 47% identified as a Republican or said they leaned toward the GOP, while 42% identified as a Democrat or leaned toward the Democratic Party. But it’s still too soon to know whether more Americans are actually identifying as Republicans. After all, political science research has found that an individual’s party identification can fluctuate.

Loyalties: Are more people identifying as Republicans?

Casino petition drive fraud claims, investigations multiply” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Increasing reports of alleged petition frauds, and a massive petition failure rate are leading county supervisors of elections around the state to say they have never seen a petition drive as bad as the one that just concluded involving proposed North Florida casinos. At least two law enforcement investigations have been opened, in the 1st and 5th Judicial Circuits. Others are being requested in other parts of Florida. Several supervisors told Florida Politics their alarm over the drive conducted by Florida Voters In Charge is not just because of the many allegations of individual petition fraud but because of the drive’s unprecedented petition failure rate of perhaps 60-70% or higher.

—“‘Not just one or two’ fake signatures: FDLE leading statewide investigation of voter petition fraud” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News

Assignment editorsCrist will hold a news conference in Miami to unveil his “Solar for All” initiative and outline a plan for a million solar roofs across Florida, 9:30 a.m., followed by a solar business tour, 11 a.m. RSVP to [email protected] for locations. It will also be livestreamed via Crist’s Facebook page (@CharlieCristFL).

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry supports DeSantis’s bid for redistricting opinion” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Curry stepped into the heated redistricting battle by joining DeSantis in asking the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on keeping a congressional district that stretches from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee. Curry submitted a brief Monday that said voters and political candidates deserve to know whether the district lines can withstand constitutional scrutiny. Curry’s filing Monday with the Supreme Court puts him at odds with U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, who lashed out at DeSantis last week. Lawson renewed his criticism Monday in response to briefs filed with the Supreme Court.

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Fried will meet with Black business owners and entrepreneurs, 9:30 a.m., Pots and Pans Cafe, 952 NE 62nd Street, Oakland Park. RSVP at [email protected].

Democrat Rebekah Jones says she can win in Northwest Florida” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News-Journal — Jones built her name on being a data expert and is now looking to defy the odds to win as a Democrat in Northwest Florida. Jones is seeking to challenge Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz for Florida’s 1st Congressional District, but first, she must convince Northwest Florida Democrats she is the right candidate. Jones told the News Journal she isn’t worried about the primary. “I’m the only one who can win this against a Republican, Gaetz or otherwise, and I’m certainly the only one who’s taken on the GOP in the state and beat them,” Jones said. Jones pointed to a poll released in October from The Listener Group that showed her only 8 points down to Gaetz and noted that redistricting will help her as the district will lose most of conservative Walton County.

Exclusive — Poll: Vern Buchanan annihilating Martin Hyde in CD 16 GOP primary” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A new survey by St. Pete Polls shows U.S. Rep. Buchanan crushing Republican primary opponent Martin Hyde. If a primary vote were held today in Florida, the eight-term incumbent would win more than 76% of the vote, with Hyde taking around 12% and the remainder of voters undecided. The poll comes as Hyde has brought on some high-profile supporters from Trump’s orbit but Buchanan secured the support of Trump himself. Hyde intends to cut into Buchanan’s base over his votes in favor of certifying Biden’s presidential victory over Trump and in favor of background checks on firearm purchases.

A new map will drive decisions for Southwest Florida lawmakers” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — With House boundaries all but set, a number of lawmakers representing Southwest Florida now have to decide if and where to run under the new cartography. Rep. Spencer Roach hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to run but said it wouldn’t be maps that make his choice. “I am still evaluating whether to seek a third term in the Florida House and anticipate making that decision before the end of the Legislative Session,” Roach said. “The redistricting process will not factor in my decision; if I run, I will run in the district where I live, which is House District 76 under the proposed maps.” Still, whatever triggers a final decision for Roach, it’s likely the map just passed by the Legislature (H 8013) will give him pause.

Never mind: Tommy Gregory to seek re-election in HD 72” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Gregory has changed plans and announced a run for the proposed House District 72. For the Sarasota Republican, that will require a move to Manatee County. “It has been an honor to represent Manatee County, and I look forward to continue representing them and this region,” Gregory said. Gregory had previously made clear he intended to run for a third term but in House District 74, where he currently lives under the redistricted House map just approved by the Florida Legislature. That map puts him in the same district as Rep. James Buchanan. Gregory said after consulting with supporters and colleagues in the district and Tallahassee, he concluded it made more sense to run in Manatee.

On second thought: Tommy Gregory decides to try for another term.

Boca Raton City Council member files for Emily Slosberg-King’s HD 91 seat” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — The day after Rep. Slosberg-King announced she would not be seeking a fourth term representing House District 91, a Boca Raton City Council Member announced he’s filed to run for the seat. A business litigation lawyer, Andy Thomson won his first campaign in a 2018 Special Election and was subsequently re-elected without opposition to the Boca Raton City Council in 2020. “We need legislators focused on solving problems,” Thomson said, according to a news release from his campaign. “I’m a collaborator and have a record of bringing people together to make a difference.” The entire city of Boca Raton elects Council members on a nonpartisan basis. Tuesday, however, Thomson announced he’s a Democrat and has the endorsement of the outgoing Representative.

Ballot referendum to put poker room on old jai-alai property dealt blow by Seminole Commissioners” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Seminole County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously rejected a request by the owner of the old Orlando Jai-Alai Fronton property in Fern Park to place a referendum on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot asking county voters if his new development can offer casino gambling in the form of a poker room. Commissioners, instead, urged attorneys for Richard Birdoff, president of the New York City-based RD Management, which owns the fronton building and most of the land surrounding it, and the developer Cordish Companies, to place the issue on the ballot themselves by gathering the required 24,800 or so signatures in a petition drive by this summer.


America learns to live with COVID-19” via Margaret Talev of Axios — One in three Americans expects to catch COVID-19 within the next month and only one in 10 thinks it will be eradicated by this time next year. The new data shows Americans are coming to terms with living with COVID-19. But it also reveals an utter lack of consensus on how to live with it. People are divided about evenly into four camps on how to proceed: drop all mandates and requirements, keep some, keep most, or add even more. Half support stores or restaurants requiring customers to show proof of vaccination to enter. “There’s nothing approaching a consensus on what we should be doing to move forward, which underlines the difficulty for policymakers,” said Ipsos pollster and Senior Vice President Chris Jackson.

Two years into pandemic, politicians still getting tripped up over coronavirus restrictions” via Amy Wang of The Washington Post — Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is at the center of the latest coronavirus-related firestorm, after she posted a photo of herself sitting with a group of elementary school students who were all masked; Abrams was not. The photos became a target for her Republican opponents and right-wing critics, who have called her a hypocrite (and worse), despite the fact GOP politicians have similarly flouted mask mandates or actively sought to prevent protective measures from being implemented.

A bad look: Stacey Abrams falls into a COVID-19 restriction trap.

Joe Biden officials trying to recalculate U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations” via Erin Banco of POLITICO — The Biden administration is working on recalculating the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S., according to two senior officials familiar with the matter. A task force comprised of scientists and data specialists works with hospitals nationwide to improve COVID-19 reporting. The group asks hospitals to report numbers of patients who go to the facility because they have COVID-19 and separate those from individuals who go in for other reasons and test positive after being admitted, the two officials said. The administration aims to get a more accurate sense of COVID-19’s impact across the country and whether the virus is causing severe disease.

The Biden administration will pay community groups to boost trust in COVID-19 vaccines” via Selena Simmons-Duffin of NPR — White House health officials have acknowledged that they are not always the best messengers when it comes to promoting COVID-19 vaccines. So, the Biden administration has worked to equip community groups to do their own local outreach. On Tuesday, the Health Resources and Services Administration is distributing $66.5 million to community groups working in 38 states and Washington, D.C. This is the fourth round of the $250 million in funding allocated in the American Rescue Plan. One group receiving more than $11 million Tuesday is Communities RISE Together, an initiative supported by the Public Health Institute. Dr. Somava Saha, who co-leads the effort, says the administration’s decision to fund local community groups is smart and “flips it from ‘trust us’ to ‘we trust you.’ ”

The booster problem” via David Leonhardt of The New York Times — The United States has a vaccination problem. And it is not just about the relatively large share of Americans who have refused to get a shot. The U.S. also trails many other countries in the share of vaccinated people who have received a booster shot. This is a different problem from outright skepticism of the vaccine. This booster shortfall is one reason the U.S. has suffered more deaths over the past two months than many other countries. First, medical care in the U.S. is notoriously fragmented. Preventive care, like a booster shot, often falls through the cracks. Government health officials and some experts struggle to communicate effectively with the hundreds of millions of us who are not experts.

Mask mandates, contact tracing are going away, as states shift to new phase” via Megan Messerly of POLITICO — Blue state governors and state health officials who most vigorously embraced pandemic restrictions are pivoting toward a new era, using omicron’s decline to dial back precautions that have become a hallmark of the last two years. Over the past few weeks, health departments from Oregon to Maine have ended almost all of their government-run COVID-19 contact tracing operations and shifted the responsibility to the public. “We’re not going to manage COVID to zero,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who has taken a strict approach to pandemic protocols but who on Monday said he would lift the state’s school mask mandate.


COVID-19 protests threaten border trade between Canada, U.S.” via Rob Gillies and Tracey Lindeman of The Associated Press — Canadian lawmakers expressed increasing worry Tuesday about the economic effects of disruptive demonstrations after the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada became partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prevented traffic from entering Canada while some U.S.-bound traffic was still moving. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called the bridge “one of the most important border crossings in the world.” It carries 25% of all trade between Canada and the United States.

Traders: Demonstrations threaten movement at one of the world’s busiest international border crossings.

COVID-19 migration: Who’s moving to Florida and why there’s a New York exodus” via Kimberly Miller of The Palm Beach Post — Extraordinary events have forever pushed and pulled and pressured U.S. population shifts from gold lust to the citrus rush to the restless return of World War II soldiers to revolutions in foreign lands and Civil War on Southern soil. Now there is COVID-19, which has turned a yearslong trickle to Florida from the northeast into a deluge. More than 547,000 people exchanged out-of-state driver’s licenses last year for ones with Sunshine State addresses. That’s a 40% increase from 2020 and nearly 20% greater than the five-year average between 2017 and 2021.

Hundreds of thousands quit jobs in Florida as ‘great resignation’ continues” via Phil Prazan of NBC Miami — The “Great Resignation” impacts regions and industries differently. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians quit their jobs each month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows around 3% of Florida workers leave their jobs every month. South Florida as a region is impacted more than others because of the type of industries in the area. Many employers say they’re having a hard time hiring enough workers, particularly in South Florida’s service economy. More jobs are available than workers wanting to work them, driving up wages and prices at times. Experts say companies should not expect a return to the way it was before the pandemic for some time. Looking at the latest quit rate data, the industries keeping their workforce steady are those with dependable hours, decent pay, and better benefits, such as work in education or local governments.

Why Realtors have embraced brutal honesty. ‘Smells like a farm town.’” via Jennifer Levitz of The Wall Street Journal — The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a surge of Americans moving to new regions, sometimes sight unseen, lured by lower costs or the ability to work remotely. But house hunters or those who uproot can be surprised by what they find, from the pea-soup fog on coasts to relentless snowstorms in the mountains. In response, a new genre of videos is populating YouTube, in which real estate agents get brutally upfront about the potential downsides of moving to their area. They say the blunt talk helps them stand out, sets realistic expectations, and reduces buyer’s remorse. The agents say it also prevents them from assisting needy homeowners who may be out of their depth when they move to a new locale.


COVID-19 pandemic led to smaller-than-expected baby bust, new data suggest” via Janet Adamy and Anthony DeBarros of The Wall Street Journal — New data on U.S. births suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a smaller-than-expected baby bust. The U.S. saw about 7,000 fewer births through the first nine months of 2021 compared with the same period the year prior. The numbers reflect conceptions that occurred roughly from April through December 2020, a period that includes the first part of last winter’s COVID-19 case surge, which started in October 2020 and waned by February 2021. Beginning in June 2021, monthly births started to show consistent gains over their year-earlier levels, which reflect pre-pandemic conceptions, and that mostly offset declines in the first two months of 2021.

Busted: Are Americans having fewer babies?

J&J pauses COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in crucial plant” via Reuters — Johnson & Johnson quietly shut down the only plant making usable batches of its COVID-19 vaccine late last year. The halt is temporary, with the plant in the Dutch city of Leiden expected to start making the vaccine again after a few months. Instead, the plant has been making an experimental but potentially more profitable vaccine to protect against an unrelated virus. J&J currently has millions of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in inventory, the company said in an email, adding that it continues to provide all its fill-and-finish sites with drug substances required to produce its shot. “We continue to fulfill our contractual obligations in relation to the COVAX Facility and the African Union,” J&J said.

Italy is dropping its outdoor mask mandate as new cases decline.” via Emma Bubola of The New York Times — Italy will no longer require masks to be worn everywhere outdoors, the government said on Tuesday, adding to a growing list of coronavirus restrictions that European countries have relaxed recently as they wrestle with what the next stage of the pandemic could look like. “A new phase is opening up,” Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said on Italian television. Italy will continue to require mask-wearing in public indoor settings, and Speranza said that masks remained an important tool to fight against the virus. Italians will still be required to carry a mask with them and to put it on outdoors if a crowd forms. The new policy will go into effect on Friday.

—“Norwegian Cruise Line to drop face mask requirements” via Robert Pandolfino of WFLA


Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President, evacuated from D.C. school after bomb threat” via Eugene Scott of The Washington Post — Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, was evacuated from a D.C. public school on Tuesday afternoon after a bomb threat, officials said. A Secret Service agent told Emhoff, “we have to go,” as he participated in an event at Dunbar High School marking Black History Month. A schoolwide announcement followed, saying teachers should evacuate everyone from the facility. The building was evacuated, and police began searching the school in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Northwest Washington. Students were sent home. In a 4:40 p.m. tweet, D.C. police said that the investigation at the school had concluded and that all streets were reopened. No hazardous materials were found.

Gotta go: A bomb threat scuttles a visit by Doug Emhoff. Image via AP.

White House denounces Florida GOP over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill” via The Associated Press — The White House on Tuesday slammed Florida Republicans over a proposal to ban discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s schools. A White House spokesperson weighed in on the legislation, dubbed by activists as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, shortly after a GOP-controlled committee approved the measure. “Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most — LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves,” the White House statement read.


Money on the table: Child credit $ available via tax returns” via Josh Boak of The Associated Press — The Biden administration wants families with children to know that there is roughly $193 billion waiting for them; all they need to do is file their taxes to claim it. That estimated total remains of the expanded child tax credit, and the administration is concerned that some of those most in need of the assistance may be the least likely to get what is due to them. Biden increased the payments and expanded who was eligible as part of his coronavirus relief package. While most families already received half the credit as monthly payments last year, they’ll lose out on the remaining balance unless they file their taxes.

Money on the table: Kamala Harris wants Americans to take advantage of expanded tax credits. Image via AP.

House passes bill to ease Postal Service financial woes” via Nicholas Wu and Hailey Fuchs of POLITICO — Long-awaited legislation overhauling the Postal Service’s finances and operations sailed through the House Tuesday. The bipartisan legislation passed the chamber in a 342-92 vote, despite controversy over the head of the Postal Service that had threatened to tank Republican support for the legislation. Among its provisions, the bill would require Postal Service retirees to enroll in Medicare and eliminate the requirement that the agency pre-fund its retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future, saving the beleaguered agency tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. It would also mandate that the Postal Service create a dashboard with performance data and deliver at least six days each week.

Maria Salazar’s immigration bill offers path to legal residency, requires E-Verify use” via Bryan Lowery of the Miami Herald — Rep. Salazar introduced legislation Tuesday that would set up a new legal residency program for millions of undocumented immigrants and create a potential path to citizenship for those who complete a pair of programs over 15 years. Salazar’s 483-page bill, titled “The Dignity Act,” would set up numerous changes to the immigration system, including measures to increase border security, an expedited process for asylum-seekers, and a new program to provide a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants already in the country. She said the bill was intended to simultaneously halt new illegal immigration and provide dignity to undocumented people already residing in the U.S.

Personnel note: Neal Dunn announces staff promotions — U.S. Rep. Dunn has promoted Matt Blackwell from Legislative Director to Deputy Chief of Staff and elevated Senior Legislative Assistant Sarah Gilbert to replace Blackwell in that position. “Matt and Sarah are two of the most knowledgeable staffers I’ve had the privilege of working with on Capitol Hill,” Dunn said. “Both have played critical roles in helping my office navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as several issues that heavily impact Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. I’m grateful for their commitment to my priorities and my district. I firmly believe these changes better position my team to focus on priorities as we prep for Republicans to take back the House.” A news release said Blackwell’s “policy expertise has been essential to the office’s response to Hurricane Michael in 2018, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing economic crisis.” It also touted Gilbert’s “expansive knowledge of health care and other key policy issues.”


Mitch McConnell rebukes RNC for saying Jan. 6 attack was ‘legitimate political discourse’” via Jennifer Shutt of Florida Phoenix — McConnell said Tuesday the RNC erred in censuring two House GOP lawmakers for joining the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. McConnell rebuked the RNC for referring to the riot as “legitimate political discourse” in the censure resolution. McConnell said the events of Jan. 6 were “a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.” McConnell said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe it’s the role of the national political committees to decide which Republicans the party will support and which it will cast aside. McConnell said he does have confidence in RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, but added it’s “not the job of the RNC” to single out Republicans.

Meanwhile …

Government reveals trove of evidence in first Jan. 6 trial” via Alan Feuer of The New York Times — Prosecutors have provided a revealing glimpse of their strategy for the first trial stemming from the attack on the Capitol, unveiling an inventory of the extensive evidence they intend to introduce, including surveillance videos, police communications, text messages, geolocation data and testimony from a Secret Service agent and the defendant’s own children. The defendant in the trial, set to begin on Feb. 28, is Guy Wesley Reffitt, an oil industry worker who prosecutors say was a member of the Texas Three Percenters, a far-right group connected to the gun rights movement. Reffitt stands accused of storming the Capitol with a pistol at his waist.

The GOP’s ‘legitimate political discourse’ Jan. 6 revisionism is off to a rough start” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Republicans intent upon accusing the Jan. 6 committee of targeting “ordinary” citizens engaged in “legitimate political discourse” have focused on a supposed case-in-point: an older woman the committee subpoenaed after she signed up to be an alternate elector for Trump. The reality is far less simple. The woman appears to be a top GOP official from Michigan — according to comments from Sen. Marco Rubio — who led an effort to submit fake electors. It could rise to the level of criminal activity, and at the very least, would seem relevant to a probe of the effort to overturn the 2020 election.


Trump is obsessed with being a loser” via Peter Wehner of The Atlantic — Trump has made clear time and time again that, in his view, the worst thing that can happen to a person is to be judged “a loser.” In the 2020 Presidential Election he was, in fact, a loser, but his narcissism and the incredibly fragile self-esteem that undergirds it won’t allow him to accept that reality. Trump seems unable to incorporate anything critical about himself, hence his need to create an imaginary world where he really won the 2020 election but was the victim of a conspiracy that borders on intergalactic.

Loser: Donald Trump has built a fantasyland where he won in 2020. Image via AP.


Cruise ship docking at Key West encroaches on Navy waters” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — On the same weekend residents rallied against three so-called mega-cruise ships entering Key West waters against voters’ wishes, one of the vessels mooring there Sunday was so big it encroached on waters reserved for Navy activity. The Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships — which organized the weekend protest — posted photos to Twitter showing the 1,004-foot Celebrity Apex docking at Pier B, a privately owned cruise ship dock. The ship’s rear extended well beyond a boundary line, designated by white-capped bollards, between Pier B’s space and Naval Air Station Key West’s Truman Harbor entrance.

Land ho: Big boats are encroaching on Navy waters in Key West. Image via Safer Cleaner Ships.

A pipe bursts, and hundreds of people are still under a boil-water order two weeks later. Welcome to Fort Lauderdale.” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A three-block section from Federal Highway west to Southeast Third Avenue and Las Olas Boulevard south to the New River has been under a boil-water order since Jan. 27, the day after the underground pipe broke. Fort Lauderdale plans to spend $600 million over the next few years fixing and replacing the city’s underground network of aging water and sewer pipes. Experts predict that the total tally will come to at least $1.4 billion over the next 20 years.

City officials who bankrupted Jacksonville trash fund to investigate why trash problems persist” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville city officials publicly and deliberately bankrupted the fund that pays for trash pickup over several years, auditors estimate it will be nearly $30 million in the red by September, so it’s no great mystery who is responsible for the much-maligned state of city trash and recycling pickup. When times were good, and now, when times are not so good, city officials have been unwilling to do the one necessary thing: Raise the fee residents pay for trash pickup that hasn’t been touched in more than a decade. Facing a mountain of complaints about poor service, the city suspended curbside recycling in the fall to better focus on at least getting the trash picked up.

Ken Welch increases St. Petersburg housing assistance payments” via Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times — Welch on Tuesday announced increases to a down payment and home rehabilitation assistance available to homebuyers in the city, particularly for households earning below the average median income. Welch also announced new incentives for developers to construct affordable single-family homes in southern St. Petersburg. The city is increasing the maximum amount of down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers in the city from $40,000 to $60,000. The amount available, which starts at $5,000, depends on household income and whether the home is purchased within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

Is Tampa Bay’s VA nearly perfect or is a federal wait time law being ignored?” via Walt Buteau of WFLA — During a recent two-year span, Veterans Affairs facilities in the Tampa Bay area seemed nearly perfect in scheduling primary care appointments within the required 20-day wait time window. But skeptics believe the data indicates the agency is not following federal law. From Jan. 1, 2020, through last August, only nine out of 106,000 Community Care patients in the Bay Pines and James Haley VA networks were given primary care appointments with civilian doctors. Darin Selnick, a senior adviser for Concerned Veterans for America, helped write the Mission Act. He does not believe it is possible that only nine out of 106,000 Tampa Bay area primary care patients qualified to go outside the VA.

Florida’s new parental rights law tests limits, and patience, in Pasco” via Jeffrey S. Solocheck of the Tampa Bay Times — For months, DeSantis and many Republican lawmakers have told parents their rights are paramount in Florida’s schools. In October, DeSantis said the state must find even more ways to “empower parents’ rights to decide what is best for their children.” And ever since, the concept has played out in often-heated debates over coronavirus masking and vaccination, library book availability, race lessons in history classes, and restroom rules involving transgender students. Citing these rights, growing numbers of parents have started to make demands of their schools based on what they think is best for their own children.

Citrus County looks to create economic development council” via Mike Wright of Florida Politics — Citrus County Commissioners are hoping to give their sputtering economic development efforts a boost by utilizing a model they hope will be more successful. During a workshop Tuesday, Commissioners agreed with Chair Ron Kitchen Jr.’s idea to create an economic development council to provide marketing direction for the county. The idea would match the county’s economic development program with its tourism efforts. The county is guided by a tourism development council appointed by the County Commission. Citrus County has been without an economic director since David Pieklik resigned in January. He was on the job only a year following the retirement of his predecessor, Bruce Register.

After more than 89 years, Gilchrist County Journal to close at end of February” via Alan Festo of The Gainesville Sun — After more than 89 years serving Gilchrist County and the surrounding area, the Gilchrist County Journal announced in its Feb. 3 edition that it plans to close at the end of the month. “A whole lot of things played into it,” co-owner and food editor Cindy Jo Ayers said. “It’s just time, and we’ve made the decision.” The notice announcing the closing also says that the weekly newspaper is for sale. “Everything I’ve heard so far is kind of really iffy,” Ayers said of a possible sale.

FSU testing confirms elevated radon levels, mold in Sandels Building” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — Preliminary testing by a team contracted by Florida State University confirmed the university’s Sandels Building contains mold and has floors with higher than recommended radon levels. The testing comes after a report compiled by faculty and obtained by Florida Politics which tied radon levels and mold to eight cancer cases within 10 years for individuals on the building’s fourth floor. The university has closed the Sandels Building until further notice. Testing conducted by Radon Professional Services from Jan. 26-28 found radon levels ranging from 2.5 to 7 PicoCuries (pCi) per liter in the building’s basement and second floor. The EPA recommends taking mitigation actions for radon levels above 4 pCi/L in residential settings.

Moldy: FSU’s Sandels Building has some serious problems.

FSU Board of Trustees OK’s $44 million loan for research building” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — The Florida State University Board of Trustees approved a resolution to authorize the FSU Research Foundation to take a $44 million loan to help finance the construction of its $88 million Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building. The university broke ground on the building in August. It will serve as a collaborative space for researchers from various fields to create and advance new materials. University officials believe financing the construction instead of paying it now could save the university money.


The tweeting, deleting operative who does DeSantis’ distorting” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — True to her flawed form, Christina Pushaw implied on Twitter that neo-Nazi demonstrators in Orlando might be Democrats in disguise. They were not, of course, and she soon deleted the tweet. The deletion only called more attention to how her boss wouldn’t say anything about the repugnant outburst of racism in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. When he finally did, it was to wallow in pretentious self-pity, complaining that Democrats were “trying to smear me as if I had something to do with that.” No one suggested anything of the sort. DeSantis’ silence was the issue, and Pushaw’s knee-jerk response highlighted it.


There’s a name for someone who calls violence ‘legitimate.’ It isn’t ‘Republican.’” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — God bless those crafty wordsmiths of the Republican Party! The people who gave us “alternative facts,” “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “tender age shelters,” and “hiking the Appalachian Trail” have outdone themselves. Euphemisms have been with us since even before the Reagan-era MX missile was dubbed the “Peacekeeper,” and the estate tax became the death tax. But calling violence “legitimate discourse” is a particularly illegitimate twisting of the English language. Now, the insurrectionists have become peaceful tourists or “political prisoners,” the Capitol Police murderers, the would-be assassins martyrs. Poll after poll shows about 10% of the American public believes violence against the government is justified at this moment.

You know what’s ‘disgusting,’ DeSantis? Your heartless policy toward immigrant children” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — You have to be devoid of a soul to attack, in a quest for political glory, immigrant children looking for safety in this troubled world and to do so in a city like Miami, Florida’s Ellis Island. Shame is too benign a word for this new racist low. As if not enough dishonor and division has been sown by today’s unrecognizable Republican Party in Miami’s Cuban American community, here comes DeSantis to open another chapter. In Miami to participate in a so-called immigration forum that was nothing but an opportunity for DeSantis to fear-monger and bash Biden, the Governor decided that the best way to pound his anti-immigrant stances was to obsequiously pander to Cuban Americans.

Speed cameras in Florida school zones make a lot of sense” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Anyone who speeds through a school zone deserves a ticket. Even the folks in Tallahassee seem to agree. That’s why SB 410, which would allow cities and counties to install speed cameras in school zones, is so far sailing through committees without a single nay vote. We already know the dangers that pedestrians face in Florida and Tampa Bay. Florida is the most dangerous place to walk in the United States, with seven of the 10 most pedestrian-hostile metro areas. Tampa Bay ranks eighth deadliest. And yet, too many drivers don’t slow down even for school children. In just one week in 2019, Florida law enforcement ticketed 2,819 drivers and gave warnings to 4,040 more during the “Operation School Zone Safety” campaign.

Surgeon General Ladapo’s confirmation is heading to the full Senate. He made it through a two-part committee hearing that even included questions about his fashion choice in lab coats.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— Bills to make picketing and demonstrating outside residences are moving through the legislature, but not without questions about the First Amendment.

— A civics lesson of sorts in the debate over making it harder to put citizen’s initiatives on the ballot.

— The Governor talks about gender ideology in the classroom.

— And talk about the high cost of housing; a two-bedroom in Melbourne is going for $2.5 million. Guess who lived there for a while?

To listen, click on the image below:


Ocala’s Joey Mantia takes sixth place in 1,500-meter speedskating event at Beijing Olympics” via Paul Newberry of the Ocala Star-Banner — World Cup leader Mantia, from Ocala, got off to a strong start but couldn’t hold his pace through a race that requires both speed and endurance. He wound up sixth in 1:45.26. “The reality is, even if I skated a perfect race, I don’t know if I would’ve beat Kjeld (Nuis) today,” Mantia said. “It’s pretty incredible what he did. It’s nice to know that the gold medal went to somebody who really showed up today.”

Off pace: Joey Mantia starts strong but couldn’t keep up.

Olympic athletes compete against the pandemic, climate change — and politics, of course” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The controversial two-week 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing officially began Friday morning with the Opening Ceremony airing on NBC. China put on its traditional, spectacular light and fireworks shows; snowflakes were the theme. Still, something is missing at these Olympics: public interest. This year, due to the pandemic, the host country and its politics, which kept some delegations away, and climate change, which is expected to hamper some snow events, the usual magnitude of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat feels smallish. The Games of the Olympiad are muted and more about everything else than the best athletes in the world coming together and competing.

Winter Olympics medal ceremonies will allow athletes to temporarily remove masks for photos” via Mike Snider of USA Today — When medal winners at the 2022 Winter Beijing Olympics make their way to the awards podium, they will have gotten marching orders regarding face masks. Athletes can remove their masks for photos capturing the gold, silver and bronze medal recipients on their respective podiums. Then, they are required to put their masks back on and depart the platform. Later they can take quick maskless photos with their own teams. Whether all Olympians will follow those rules, set by the International Olympic Committee as part of its COVID-19 prevention protocols, remains to be seen. There’s precedent for rule-breaking. During last year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, the first wave of athletes to make it to the awards podium were told to follow the IOC’s rule to keep their masks on during the entire ceremony.

All alone at luge, where closed doors offer a view of the Games’ best-kept secret.” via Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times — Some Olympic sports impress with their athleticism, or their physical prowess, or their grace and fluidity in movement. The National Sliding Center in Yanqing, the host of the Games’ bobsled, luge and skeleton events, offers something else, something unexpected: a disorienting and exhilarating view of sport. It starts with the track. One could roam along the nearly mile-long track and stand close enough to hear the low hum of the approaching sled, feel the wind’s hiss from a luger’s wake and see the imprint their sleds sliced into the ice.

NBC says Leslie Jones can keep offering her commentary on the Olympics.” via Remy Tumin of The New York Times — One day after Jones suggested that NBC was pressuring her to give up her colorful Olympics commentary, the network said on Monday night that the situation “has been resolved.” Jones, the former “Saturday Night Live” star who has become an unofficial Olympics armchair expert, has tweeted her way through the past three Olympics, much to the adoration of die-hard sports fans and novices alike. But on Monday, she said that some of her videos had been blocked and that she was considering giving up on the Olympics altogether. “Leslie Jones does not stay anywhere I’m not welcomed,” Jones posted on social media Sunday night at the end of the free skate event.

How to watch the Winter Olympics online on a budget” via Tatum Hunter and Geoffrey A. Fowler of The Washington Post — The 2022 Winter Olympics are here, and finding coverage online has gotten easier since the Summer Games in Tokyo last year. For instance, the Winter Games in Beijing mark the first time NBC, which owns broadcast rights to the Olympics, makes all of its live coverage available to people who pay for its streaming service, Peacock. That means you won’t find yourself wondering why you can’t find NBC content on an NBC-owned streaming platform. And at $4.99 a month, it’s a small price to pay for a few weeks of Olympics access. But finding the Olympic content, you want when you want it still isn’t a no-brainer. Peacock only allows three people to share the same account, so borrowing a friend’s login can get tricky.

— ALOE —

“Publix working with Audubon Society to restore portion of Everglades. First phase complete” via Paul Nutcher of The Lakeland Ledger — Deer captured on video cameras are evidence of Publix’s yearlong commitment of $1.2 million is working to help restore the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades. The restoration effort so far has eliminated invasive willows and other species across 200 acres of the sanctuary, Publix Super Markets Inc. said in a news release last week. Invasive trees and plants disrupt Florida’s natural water cycle by using standing water from rainfall before it can seep into the underground aquifers. According to a third-party evaluation arranged by Publix, the phase one removal will allow more than 44 million gallons of water per year to be returned to the wetland’s ecosystem, the equivalent of nearly 67 Olympic-size swimming pools.

This luxury resort near Miami was just named one of the best hotels in America” via Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald — This is getting to be a habit: The most famous luxury oceanfront resort in Sunny Isles Beach was just named one of the best hotels in the country. Again. U.S. News & World Report has just released its 2022 rankings of the best hotels in the United States, and in what was a surprise to precisely no one, Acqualina Resort was ranked No. 3 in the country, behind The Peninsula Chicago (No. 1) and Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui (No. 2). For Acqualina, which also ranked in the top three in 2021, that includes a spectacular beachfront, several pools, the award-winning Espa spa and restaurants including Ke-uH.

Best of show: To the surprise of no one, the Acqualina Resort is again named one of the best hotels in the country.


Happy birthday to former U.S. Rep. Patrick Rooney, former state Rep. Fred Costello, and our friend, Todd Jennings, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee. Belated birthday wishes to Rhett Bullard.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
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